The first stop is Modern Pastry (257 Hanover St.) The doors and windows are wide open, and one must walk past several pastry cases full of thick cake slices, cupcakes, cookies, and other pastries before joining the line. Sitting in the window, a trio of women talk loudly and laugh over coffee. As they sit there, several people pop their heads in the window to say hi and join in on the conversation.
The cannoli are not on display at Modern; instead, one must review the cannoli menu on the wall, selecting a shell, a filling, and any additional toppings. Once the order is placed, the person behind the counter disappears into a back room and returns with the goods, adding a dusting of powdered sugar and packing the treat into a white box. On today’s crawl, the choice is a traditional shell, ricotta filling, and chocolate chip studs. The shell is crisp; the filling is thick and sweet. The mini chocolate chips provide additional crunch.
The cannoli tour continues to Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover St.), just down the road and across the street from Modern. The women working the counter appear grumpy as they take orders and nestle the cannoli into boxes, dramatically pulling string from large balloon-like structures that hang from the ceiling. A tourist is sitting at one of the few small tables as he examines his map over an espresso and a pistachio cannoli. He savors each bite, chewing slowly.
Here, the cannoli are on display, front and center. There are large ones and small ones with several different shells, fillings, and toppings. The limoncello cannoli seem to call out with their sunny color and promise of bright lemon flavor. Here, the shells are lighter in color than at Modern, but they have that same airy crunch.
A woman orders six cannoli and presents her credit card, but the woman behind the counter flatly states that credit cards are not accepted. (Modern, too, only accepts cash.) She continues to package up the order and looks to the customer impatiently for payment. The cashless woman is at a loss, and as she's deciding what to do, a cannoli hero from the back of the line walks up and offers to pay the total. The cashless woman is overjoyed and offers to pay her back once she goes to an ATM. The cannoli hero politely declines and says that they are a gift. The two women hug and carry on with their days.
Onward to Bova's (134 Salem St.), the bakery well-known for being open 24 hours a day. They have a large selection of colorful Italian cookies, and towards the back of the shop, there are rectangles of Sicilian pizza, large stromboli, and a deli as well. On today’s crawl, the choice is a Nutella cannolo, which is doused with powdered sugar before being placed in a bag. The Nutella filling is very thick but velvety. The exterior is crispy and shatters into thick chunks when bitten into.
The last stop on the crawl is Maria's (46 Cross St.), a small bakery that stands at the tip of the North End, just across from the Greenway. It's a spot frequented by more locals than tourists. A couple of people sit at an old table, nursing cups of coffee; they look like they've been there for hours and have little intention of leaving. They stop talking any time anyone walks in.
Next to the register and near the entryway of the bakery, large racks of small cannoli shells sit. When a customer orders, the woman behind the counter grabs a shell and disappears to the back to fill it with the classic, sweet ricotta filling. She returns, dusts the cannolo with powdered sugar, and presents it in a small white bag. The cannoli here are darker in color, crisp, and with a looser filling than the rest of the day’s treats.
Back in the heart of the North End, as the afternoon is starting to get going, a line has now formed at Mike's, and it's snaking outside the building; it looks to be a tour of sorts. Meanwhile, Modern has really come alive; the line is lengthening and the seats are filling in with people looking to enjoy a treat and take in the nice day.
Main image: Bova’s Bakery. All photos by Katie Chudy for Eater.